Friday, April 18, 2008

Aime Cesaire Dies at 94.

By HERVE BRIVAL From Associated Press FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique (AP) Aime Cesaire, a poet honored throughout the French-speaking world and a crusader for West Indian rights, has died at 94. Cesaire died Thursday after at a Fort-de-France hospital where he was being treated for heart problems and other ailments, said government spokeswoman Marie Michele Darsieres. He was one of the most celebrated cultural figures in the Caribbean and was revered in his native Martinique, which sent him to France's parliament for nearly half a century and repeatedly elected him mayor of the capital. Cesaire helped found the Black Student journal in Paris in the 1930s that launched the idea of "negritude," urging blacks to cultivate pride in their heritage. His 1950 "Discourse on Colonialism" became a classic of French political literature. French Culture Minister Christine Albanel said Cesaire "imbued the French language with his liberty and his revolt." "He made (the French language) beat to the rhythm of his spells, his cries, his appeals to overcome oppression, invoking the soul of subjugated peoples to urge the living to raise themselves up," she said. His best known works included the essay "Negro I am, Negro I Will Remain" and the poem Notes From a Return to the Native Land. Cesaire was born June 26, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, Martinique and moved to France for high school and university studies. He graduated from one of the country's most elite institutes, the Ecole Normale Superieure. Cesaire returned to Martinique during World War II and taught at a high school in Fort-de-France, where he served as mayor from 1945 to 2001, except for a blip in 1983-84. Even political rivals paid him homage. French President Nicolas Sarkozy successfully led a campaign last year to change the name of Martinique's airport in honor of Cesaire, despite the poet's refusal to meet him in the run-up to the 2007 French elections. Cesaire endorsed Sarkozy's Socialist rival, Segolene Royal. Cesaire complained that Sarkozy had endorsed a 2005 French bill citing the "positive role" of colonialism. Cesaire spoke ardently against the measure's language, and it was later removed after complaints from former French colonies and France's overseas territories. "I remain faithful to my beliefs and remain inflexibly anti-colonialist, "Cesaire said in a statement at the time. Sarkozy on Thursday praised Cesaire as "a great poet" and a "great humanist." "As a free and independent spirit, throughout his whole life he embodied the fight for the recognition of his identity and the richness of his African roots," Sarkozy said. "Through his universal call for the respect of human dignity, consciousness and responsibility, he will remain a symbol of hope for all oppressed peoples." Royal called him "an eminent symbol of a mixed-race France" and urged that he be buried in the Pantheon, where French heroes from Victor Hugo to Marie and Pierre Curie are interred. "A great voice has died out, that of a man of conviction, of creation, of testimony, who awakened consciousness throughout his life, blasted apart hypocrisies, brought hope to all who were humiliated, and was a tireless fighter for human dignity," Royal said. Cesaire was the honorary president of her support committee during the presidential campaign. Cesaire was affiliated with the French Communist Party early in his career but became disillusioned in the 1950s and founded the Martinique Progressive Party in 1958. He later allied with the Socialist Party in France's National Assembly, where he served from 1946-1956 and 1958-1993. Associated Press writer Angela Doland in Paris, France, contributed to this report. (Thanks to Jane Bryce for the information.)

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